Nautical Terms as Gleaned from Ancient Tamil Literature

Dublin Core


Nautical Terms as Gleaned from Ancient Tamil Literature


Session 2

Nautical (Ship and boat) Archaeology of South Asia


During the beginning of the Common Era, the Maritime trade peaked in the regions of Southeast Asia, Peninsular India, Srilanka and the Red Sea coast. The Greek and Latin accounts clearly attest to the increased trade activities in this period. The use of large crafts for navigation is well recorded in these accounts. The early historic Tamil Sangam literature dated between 300 B.C.E. and 300 C.E. provide valuable data regarding the nautical knowledge of that period. Some researchers have attempted to collate and interpret the data on nautical terms available in this literature. However, a detailed contextual analysis based on the content of the poems has not been attempted so far. Many types of crafts such as naavaay, vangam, thimil, and punai, are found mentioned in the Sangam literature, and these terms are not in use at present. The field studies conducted by scholars have revealed the existence of many indigenous crafts having different names on the South Indian Coast. Due to modern development the usage of traditional crafts is fast vanishing.

In this paper an attempt is made to analyse the names and structure of the crafts that occur in the Sangam literature based on their contextual information. For example, the term naavaay is mentioned in the context of deep-sea craft which carried goods of various types. The data pertaining to the boats and ships and other nautical terms are analysed in this paper. An attempt is also made to find out the possible reasons for the disappearance of the various crafts referred in the literature.


N. Athiyaman


November 2011



N. Athiyaman, “Nautical Terms as Gleaned from Ancient Tamil Literature ,” The MUA Collection, accessed December 13, 2017,

Document Viewer